"This is it. This is where I slept as a Second World War Prisoner of War," said former US marine Roy Weaver, smacking one of a row of large wooden bunks with his fist that used to accommodate 16 Allied POWs.
Weaver, 88, was a slave laborer alongside 2,000 other Allied prisoners at the former Japanese POW camp Mukden, now a residential community owned by a Chinese factory in Shenyang, capital of northeast China's Liaoning Province, for nearly three years from November 1942 to August 1945.
The white-haired man and eight other former American POWs, along with relatives, arrived on Tuesday at the place where they were subjected to forced labor, sub-zero temperatures and cruel beatings to mark the 65th Anniversary Service of Remembrance of the Mukden camp.
Most of them were captured by the Japanese in the Philippines in April 1942 and, still in uniform made for tropical climates, were taken to the northeastern Chinese city in November when winter temperatures dropped to minus 30 degrees Celsius.
Weaver recalled brutal beatings handed out by a Japanese captain nicknamed "The Bull of the Woods".
Weaver said he would stand up to face the "Bull" every time he was struck to the ground but eventually he was unable to stand on his feet.
"I'm lucky to have survived. About 266 POWs died from malnutrition, starvation, disease, overwork and the cruelty of the Japanese guards," he said.
"The food was terrible here, but the lack of food was much worse," said Robert Brown, who was only 18 when he was taken prisoner.
"Lack of food, shortage of medicines and extremely cold weather struck down one POW after another. The ground was frozen so solid in winter that the men could not be buried, so their bodies were kept in a room at the camp until springtime," Brown said.
Despite the horrors and hardships of Mukden, the POWs said they had a strong feeling they would survive.
"We did everything we could to thwart the Japanese war efforts," said Randall Edwards. Like others, Edwards worked at Manchu Work and Machine Corporation Ltd, a former Ford car plant which manufactured parts for aircraft production.
"We stole their machine tools and truck tyres from the factory," he said.
The group also recalled the assistance they received from their Chinese colleagues at the factory, saying the Chinese always stole machine parts to exchange food outside and gave food to the POWs in secret.
Another returning American POW, Hal Leith, did not suffer as a prisoner at Mukden - he was the camp's liberator. Two days after Japanese Emperor Hirohito surrendered, Leith parachuted into Mukden and set free all the POWs, with the help of Russian and Chinese farmers.
"The POWs were all so happy when we told them that the Japanese had surrendered," Leith said. "They asked me many questions, some of which I could answer but some I couldn't. One question was 'Is Shirley Temple still alive' and I told them 'Yes'," he said.
Despite their old age, many of the former POWs have revisited Shenyang in recent years to mourn for their dead comrades and relive their experiences at the camp, one of the most heavily-protected Japanese WWII camps in Asia.
They brought old photos, eating utensils, uniforms and newspapers to donate to the Chinese authorities, who have decided to turn the old camp into a museum.
According to the 54-million-yuan (US$6.9 million) plan, the museum will cover 12,900 square meters and will include original camp buildings, a main square and a bungalow where the Japanese wardens used to live.
Two walls will be constructed in the square on which the names of all the POWs will be inscribed.
Looking around the old camp time and time again, the American veterans seemed reluctant to leave - a three-hour visit was clearly regarded as too short compared with their former stay of three years. It was the first time most of them had revisited the camp and it will probably be their last.
Jo Lippard, who accompanied her 87-year-old husband John, was more emotional than the former POW.
"John told me to be strong and not to cry, but I couldn't help shedding tears when I saw the battered old camp and thought about their hardships," said Jo, a retired nurse.
"We must move forward, of course, but we should never forget what happened," she said.
(Xinhua News Agency May 24, 2007)